National Women’s History Month: 7 Women who Changed Medicine

What we can learn from them

women-medicine March is national women’s history month! As an organization founded by women, for women, it’s important for us to highlight some of the amazing people that have given women a place in modern healthcare, and made women’s drug and alcohol rehab a possibility for us today.

  1. Metradora – Before drug and alcohol rehabilitation could be perfect, or even realized, women had to enter the medical realm. The first women in medicine can be traced back all the way to 200-400 CE, when the first female author of a medical book was discovered, Metradora of Greece. Metradora was a source of information and inspiration to wave of other ancient writers. It could be said that Metradora is the first example of just how influential women could be in the male-dominated field of medicine.
  2. Dorothea Erxleban was not only the first modern woman in medicine, but she was also the first woman in Germany to receive a PhD and an M.D. Among her many endeavors, she also sought to understand why no other women were pioneering the sciences. She was one of the first to publically address that women were being societally excluded from higher education due to the demands of child rearing and housekeeping. Juggling a home life and a career is still one of the most difficult and one-sided expectations that women have to deal with to this day, and Dorothea realized this and understood its impact back in the 1700’s.
  3. James Miranda Barry (born Margaret Bulkley) followed just after Dorothea and pulled a Mulan get her medical degree. She changed her identity and posed as a boy from a very young age in order to get a formal education, then began work in South Africa where she quickly rose the ranks of military doctors, up to Inspector General. Her medical expertise saved the lives of women and soldiers, as she increased survivability of wounded soldiers and performed the first C-section in Africa where both the mother and child survived.
  4. Elizabeth Blackwell was the first female medical doctor in the United States. She was originally admitted into medical school as a joke, assuming she would be rejected by her peers and medicine-women  lose motivation in her studies. Despite the humiliation, she succeeded in earning her license and championed reform in the field all through the rest of her life. She worked in London and Paris, and continued her studies. She had even wanted to become a surgeon until she lost vision in one eye.
  5. Catherine The Great
    Catherine was a Russian queen who was so ambitious that many assumed she murdered her abusive husband (an ill-tempered king) to gain political power and lead her people. She was widely accepted as one of the most influential rulers of all time, in part because her deep love and trust for science saved millions of lives.Whereas scientific researchers in the field of medicine are essential to learn new information and means of treatment, it often takes a deeply influential character to help people embody the necessary change. Catherine understood how the common man would react to the idea of inoculation. After weighing the options and studying the research of Dr. Dimsdale, a pioneering inoculator of her time, Catherine decided to make herself and her son the first test subjects. In a time where a single plague of pox killed over 20,000 people, her diligent study and brave undertakings saved entire generations of people and lead the world to vaccinations.
  6. Marie Curie was one of the most notable chemists and physicists of all history, with groundbreaking work that earned her and her husband multiple Nobel Peace Prizes. Together, they were the first to realize the therapeutic uses of radioactive materials. It could be said that her work directly paved the way for future research into radiation oncology and teletherapy, and one of the primary means of treating cancer to this day.
  7. Rebecca Lee Crumpler was America’s first African-American female doctor. At a time when her people were still fighting for basic human rights, Crumpler dedicated herself to helping others. Just after the civil war, she moved to Virginia to study afflictions affecting children and women. Ignoring sexual and racial discriminations against her, she continued to study and practice medicine by taking care of former slaves who had little to nothing in their names. She was also one of the first African Americans to publish literature on medicine.

medicine It’s through the footsteps of bold, powerful, and intelligent women like these that our organization had its humble origins in 1977. It was only when Pamela F. Wilder stood up and admitted she had an addiction, and sought support from her community, that the dream of New Directions for women was realized. Thanks to brave women and a caring community, we were able to find our purpose over four decades as a drug and alcohol rehab for women in Orange County and offer rehab for pregnant women as well as mothers with children. We can only hope that we’re helping the next generation of strong and world-changing women.

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